Have you ever thought about how exciting it would be to make an important scientific discovery? You don't have to be a professional scientist - in paleontology, anyone with a love of science and discovery, some patience, eagle eyes, and a willingness to get dirty has a chance of doing just that! Casual fossil hunters have discovered new species, lifelong fossil enthusiasts have assembled important collections, and amateur paleontologists have collaborated with professionals to write significant scientific papers. Many have donated their fossil discoveries to museums, ensuring that the fossils can be seen and studied by future generations. Amateurs have also worked to preserve important fossil sites threatened by development or destruction.
Our understanding of Cretaceous life in Maryland would be much less complete without the dedicated work of amateur paleontologists who have worked with Smithsonian and university scientists to describe and document their finds. Here we profile three whose fossil discoveries are on display in the â€œDinosaurs in Our Backyardâ€ exhibit at the Smithsonian.
Ray Stanford began collecting Cretaceous fossils when he retired to Maryland in 1986. Over the years, in stream beds throughout the area, he has discovered hundreds of tracks and other important and amazing fossils. The tracks provide the only evidence that some animals, whose fossilized bones have not been found locally, lived in the Washington DC area 110 million years ago. One of Ray's favorite discoveries was the imprint of the baby nodosaurÂ Propanoplosaurus, which is now on display in the â€œDinosaurs in our Backyardâ€ exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. This specimen is the subject of his latest scientific paper, written in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University professors David Weishampel and Valerie B. Deleon.